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Polyglots and publishing platforms: Reading between the lines

Two notable polyglots were Indian Philosopher Sri Aurobindo and former Indian Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, who knew over 10 languages each.

Chirdeep Shetty | New Delhi |


Imagine putting up your best work for an international audience speaking different languages, and soon finding out that most of them do not get the best version, but instead, a subpar translation of your work. Imagine working with a publishing team which did not fully comprehend your ideas, not because they’re incompetent, but because you don’t speak the same language – literally. This is the reality for several pieces of content available online, but certain skills, combined with the right technology, have begun to tackle this problem.

Languages are complex, especially because their structures and nuances vary, and if you’re used to one language, it is likely that you have to change tracks when trying to pick up another. This is a feat too difficult for many people to follow through with. However, there are people who pick up a number of different languages with amazing ease and become fluent in them – they are known as polyglots. Some polyglots are said to have even found that they can express themselves better in a language that is not their mother-tongue.

Several famous authors such as Yann Martel (Life of Pi) and Eva Hoffman (Lost in Translation) are known polyglots, having published books in their second or third languages instead of the first. Other notable polyglots were Indian Philosopher Sri Aurobindo and former Indian Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, who knew over 10 languages each.

With the advent of the digital age, content from across the world is published online every day, on a number of platforms supporting different languages. One such place where many languages come together is publishing platforms, and having a polyglot or two around is more than helpful. Since these platforms require communicating with people from different places and speakers of various languages, having polyglot team members enables them to effectively communicate with publishers from across the world.

Polyglots can ensure that whatever has been discussed with publishers is, in turn, accurately conveyed to all parties that are involved in the working of the platform. This facilitates meeting specific needs and a solid solution can be formed for the publisher based on an accurate understanding of abstract ideas presented while setting up their page or content on the platform.

Being fluent in multiple languages makes for better translation and an extensive understanding of vocabulary and nuances. For example, there are several words in Japanese which do not have an exact substitute in English. Instead, they become sentences once translated, such as “Kogarashi”, meaning “The cold wind that lets us know the arrival of winter.” Additionally, there are words that can have different meanings depending on their contextual placement.

A 2018 Stanford-led report on AI revealed that learning languages is as much a challenge for AI as it is for the human brain. Technology sometimes translates too literally, and as a result, the essence of what someone is trying to say gets lost in translation. A common example is what often happens when you use online translation tools. Publishing platforms use a focused approach based on the user base. When a polyglot is part of those who manage this technology, they can program the software accordingly to get a representation of the language that suits the meaning and tone that the author wants to put forth.

Knowing more than one or two languages is beneficial for a number of reasons. It opens up windows for you to gather more knowledge since you aren’t limited either to speaking to people or acquiring knowledge from sources familiar with only your first or second languages. Publishing platforms, which have polyglots on their team, can benefit – themselves and users – by way of breaking down language barriers and providing tailor-made solutions for their content. This can facilitate the smooth functioning of these platforms with minimal errors as a result of technology backed by the right skills, and ensure neither the meaning, expression nor the context of words gets lost in translation anymore.

(The writer is CEO, Quintype technologies)